Pittsburgh Steelers: Overlooking Colts a Huge Mistake

Normally, the Pittsburgh Steelers wouldn’t look past Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. With the quarterback out, they might now—but shouldn’t.

The Thanksgiving night matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Indianapolis Colts doesn’t look quite as appetizing now as it did a couple of weeks ago. This, despite the fact that that both teams are now 5-5 and back in their respective division races.

As to why the contest has lost some of its luster is simple. The Colts have officially ruled out star quarterback Andrew Luck with a concussion. What was supposed to be a classic quarterback duel between two of the game’s elite has become a matchup between Ben Roethlisberger and Scott Tolzien.

Now, we aren’t trying to disrespect Tolzien in any way here, but the guy isn’t the same top-tier signal-caller that Luck can be. Heck, he hasn’t even started a regular-season game since the 2013 season. Considering the Colts field an underwhelming rushing attack—the team averages just 95.8 yards per game on the ground—Luck’s absence may severely hinder the Colts offense.

It’s not like Indianapolis has a dominant defense, either. In fact, Pro Football Focus rates the Colts dead last in overall defense for the season so far. All of this adds up to make the Tolzien-led Colts look like a team that the Steelers could easily overlook. The Steelers have tough matchups with the New York Giants, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals looming to make that even more so.

There are a couple of reasons, however, why the Steelers shouldn’t and cannot overlook the team in front of them.

The most obvious reason is that the Steelers absolutely must have this win if the team hopes to stay in the AFC North hunt. Pittsburgh has lost four of their last five and should consider themselves lucky that the first-place Baltimore Ravens have played poorly enough to share a 5-5 record. Those aforementioned games on the upcoming schedule aren’t going to be easy, and the Steelers need every win they can muster at this point.

Simply put, the Steelers have to treat every remaining game as an elimination contest. Pittsburgh didn’t appear prepared to face teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins earlier this season. And the team was handed blowout losses because of it.

Overlooking the Colts could also be a major mistake, because it’s not as if the Steelers themselves are playing excellent football—especially on the road. There seems to be some sort of disconnect on offense—or perhaps Roethlisberger simply isn’t back to 100 percent after suffering a torn meniscus—and the unit has struggled mightily in its last two road games.

The Steelers produced just 14 points against the Ravens two weeks ago and the offense only managed a single touchdown against the woeful Cleveland Browns last week. In fact, Pittsburgh’s only offensive touchdown last week came after Browns penalties twice extended the first half by an untimed play. Going into Indianapolis and producing just 17 offensive points could be a recipe for a loss, even with Tolzien under center for Indianapolis.

Say what you will about Tolzien (there might not be much to say given how little we’ve seen of him lately), but after spending the year in Indianapolis, there’s a good chance he can operate the Colts offense. Indianapolis believes he can, anyway.

“I have all the confidence in the world in [Tolzien],” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said, per Kevin Bowen of the team’s official website.

If Tolzien can operate the Colts offense effectively, then there’s no way the Steelers can afford to overlook this team. With or without Luck, the Colts have offensive weapons galore. Guys like Frank Gore, T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, Phillip Dorsett and Jack Doyle can do damage. We saw journeyman signal-caller Matt Hasselbeck utilize some of these weapons to go 5-3 as a starter for the Colts last season. Just because the face under center is different, doesn’t mean this offense won’t have teeth.

Besides, it’s not like the Steelers have a top-tier defense of their own to combat what the Colts put on the field. The team is allowing an average of 363.6 yards per game (22nd in the NFL) and is rated 20th in overall defense by Pro Football Focus.

If the Steelers try sleepwalking into Lucas Oil Stadium, the could easily get pasted by the Colts the same way they did by the Eagles and the Dolphins earlier this season. Considering Pittsburgh has already lost one head-to-head matchup with the Ravens, a loss here could make it difficult to catch up over the final five weeks of the season.

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